Amid the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, many European governments have called for mandatory isolation, but what does this mean for yacht crew working at sea? For captains and crew living in close quarters, it's now more important than ever to protect yourselves (and your guests) while working on board. Here's all the advice yacht crew need and all of your coronavirus questions answered...
Is it safe to travel and stay in ports during the coronavirus pandemic?
The World Health Organisation has not yet made any recommendations on international travel or trade restrictions but International Health Regulations state that yachts should not be refused “free pratique” meaning permission to enter a port, embark or disembark. However, many governments have now introduced their own restrictions, including delayed port clearance, prevention of crew or passengers from embarking or disembarking (preventing shore leave and crew changes), the prevention of loading food and supplies, and - in extreme cases - the imposition of quarantine or refusal of port entry.
Restrictions will vary from port to port so check ahead of time. Wilhelmsen Ships Server has developed an interactive map on current port restrictions.
What steps should be taken before embarking?
Captains and crew should develop a written outbreak management plan, in the event of a suspected case of COVID-19. This plan should include descriptions of where suspected cases will be isolated, how the necessary communications between departments will be managed, cleaning and disinfection procedures for potentially contaminated areas including isolation cabins, and how food service and waste management services will be provided to isolated travellers. Staff on board should have knowledge of the plan and implement it as required.
According to the WHO, crew should implement a pre-boarding screening with the purpose of deferring or rescheduling the boarding of any traveller identified through a questionnaire as being in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
How can I protect myself and guests on board?
Official WHO guidelines are as follows:
Frequent hand washing by crew (and passengers) using soap and hot water or alcohol-based (at least 65-70%) hand rub for 20 seconds.
Avoid touching the face including mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands (in case hands have touched surface contaminated with the virus)
Seafarers (and passengers) should be encouraged to cover their nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when sneezing, coughing, wiping and blowing the nose then dispose of the used tissue immediately
If a tissue is not available crew should cover the nose and mouth and cough or sneeze into a flexed elbow
Seafarers should aim to keep at least one metre distance from other people, particularly those that cough or sneeze or may have a fever. If they are too close, other crew members can potentially breathe in the virus
Meat, milk or animal products should always be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, consistent with good food safety practices.
What should I do if someone on board is showing symptoms of coronavirus?
If there is a suspected case of COVID-19 on board, the person should be instructed to wear a medical mask and isolated in a predefined isolation cabin with the door closed. Following International Health Regulations, the captain must immediately inform that port health authority at the next port of call about any suspected case of COVID-19. It is important to disembark suspected cases as soon as possible in cooperation with the health authorities at the port, to prevent the endangerment of others. During the disembarkation process, every effort should be made to minimise the exposure of other persons and environmental contamination.
After a suspected case has been identified, all persons on board should be assessed for their risk of exposure. Anyone who has been in close contact (this means those who have stayed in the same cabin, participated in a common activity or dined together) is considered to have had a high risk of exposure and must be separated from others on board as soon as possible.
Should I wear a face mask?
Although face masks may provide some protection – especially if there is a risk of exposure when interacting with a person from outside the yacht – the routine use of face masks is not recommended. If an individual is healthy, it is only necessary to wear a mask if the person is taking care of a person with the suspected COVID-19 virus.